味仙 misen: a taste of taiwan
Nagoya is a Los Angeles sister city, but the place reminds me more of Manhattan, especially underground in the chikatetsu tunnels which, like New York’s famed subways, are all aged tiling, grime and funky mildew. Japan’s third-largest city is a far cry from Tokyo in both infrastructure and character; as a native Angeleno, I couldn’t help but but wonder why we hadn’t pair-bonded with a metropolis that on the surface, might seem a tad slicker and hipper, Osaka for example.
But wandering around Nagoya’s Osu shopping district on a frustrating afternoon when even robots take a siesta, it dawned on me that Aichi Prefecture’s urban heart is a minor oasis of multiculturalism in one of the most homogeneous nations on earth.
In that sense, Nagoya is very much like Los Angeles, and there’s even the noodles to prove it, for over the years, a grimy eatery known as Misen has managed to singlehandedly innovate “Taiwan ramen,” a nuanced fusion of our favorite subject with Taiwanese cuisine, redolent of Chinese spices and oils, garlic and peppers on overdrive.
The result is a bowl occupying territory somewhere between shoyu ramen and various Taiwanese noodle soup dishes, featuring a punishingly fiery liquid (by any standard) that evokes any number of hot pots from Taipei to China’s north. When I had mentioned to the woman at Nagoya station that I wanted to try Nagoya Taiwan ramen, her finger fell immediately to one spot on the map. “It’s spicy,” she warned.
And that’s part of the reason why “Taiwan ramen” is so fucking fantastic. Stateside multiculturalism has been responsible for any number of hyphenated, “ethnic-American” foods, ranging from the crass (“fortune cookies!”) to the unexpectedly delightful (the Kogi taco); Taiwan ramen is something of a Japanese analogue, born at Misen of immigrants and their Taiwanese-Japanese offspring. Maybe that’s why, despite Japan’s best efforts to modernize, despite the thousands of cosmopolitan, gourmet, western-style meals to be had in Tokyo, I’ve almost never walked into a restaurant in that country and felt like I was anywhere but Japan.
Misen is different. As with Nagoya’s grimy, New York-style subways, you can sense the grease in the air and the casual atmosphere of a divey hole-in-the-wall, a place to crack open a beer while sucking down a sweat-wringing bowl of imperfect-but-whatever noodles and making a socially acceptable mess of some deep fried blue crab (mighty tasty I might add), a joint where the waiters give a tiny bit less of a fuck than they would in a clinically Japanese establishment where everyone down to the maneki neko and ramen robots pride themselves on something virtually unfamiliar to the rest of the world in their clinical striving for perfection, something called, well service. After a week or two of running around Kanto, it’s a refreshing change of pace, and a taste of home in more ways than one.
|zesty, spicy, and all things even the best japanese ramen is not, misen's taiwan ramen shoyu soup is loaded with a decidedly non-japanese abundance of garlic and chili peppers to make you cry. we're not in tokyo anymore.||9|
|alas, while most ramen shops might pride themselves on the spine and chew of their noodles, misen's taiwan ramen sort of lets their noodling go to pot, with a texture tha veers a little too close to the slippery, pasta-like yellow strands found in taiwanese beef noodle soup.||6|
|ground pork, garlic, chili peppers, leeks. ground pork, garlic, chili peppers... repeat after me. or should i say chili peppers, ground pork, garlic... it's hard to see what's in my ramen when my eyeballs are drenched in sweat.||7.5|
|on a whim, i ordered from the big tub of fried blue crab sitting in front of me on the kitchen counter. it's greasy, peppery, merciless, and if you don't eat the shells too, you're never gonna get any of the meat out. a little chitin never hurt anyone.||8|
|what's remarkable about misen is that you feel like you've truly stepped outside of japan, and into some grimy eatery in taiwan or china. sure the servers are more attentive than you'd ever find in taipei, but it's a little slice of realism in a country that at times, can feel far too surreal to the non-native.||7|
|as a multicultural by-product of japan's ethnically taiwanese inhabitants, misen and taiwan ramen are gems in an often stultifyingly homogeneous nation.||8|
中国南北酒菜 味仙 矢場店